Putting the focus on Decent Work and Labour Migration in Central America!

The ILO launches a series of fact sheets to analyse the labour and migration profile of migrants from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, as well as a series of recommendations to promote decent jobs, improve working conditions and establish mechanisms to ensure social protection.

News | 13 December 2021
San José – The International Labour Organization (ILO), the only United Nations agency with a constitutional mandate to protect the rights of migrant workers, works actively from its office for Central America, Haiti, Panama and the Dominican Republic to ensure that decent work is a reality in labour migration processes.

Only a safe, orderly and regular migration can guarantee the labour rights of migrants. For this, the ILO contributes with analysis and alternative solutions that involve governments, employer´s and workers´ organizations.

Although there are no precise data on the increase in irregular migration, between 2020 and 2021 (1st semester), apprehensions of migrants from the northern countries of Central America at the southern border of the United States have increased from around 131,000 to 302,000 people.

As a result of this updated analysis, the ILO publishes a series of fact sheets to characterize the labour and migration profile of migrants from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, as well as the functioning and challenges of the labour market and its relationship with labour migration.

Data show that the population structure of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras conditions the labour markets, taking into account that there is a demographic bonus (a greater number of young people) between 5 to 19 years, that represents 30.7% of the total population on average, and in the case of Guatemala 55.5%. In addition, it is estimated that between 2019 and 2050, the number of men for every 100 women will increase from 91 to 95, which can enhance inequalities in access to decent work and occupational segregation.

Regarding the indicators of the labour market, in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras only 57 of every 100 people who are of age and ability to work have a job. On the other hand, the average unemployment rate in these three countries is 4.3%, largely influenced by the unemployment rate in Guatemala, which is the lowest of the three countries (and which is explained by the high levels of labor informality).

According to data from the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) of the United Nations (UN), 3,888,164 people have migrated from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador; 52.5% are women; 71.1% are between 20 and 64 years old and 21.1% are between 0 and 19 years old. The main destination is the United States; representing 87.7% of the total number of people who migrate from these countries.

These data show how population dynamics can affect the behavior of the labour market, also due to the gender inequalities, and how it will therefore be necessary to address these needs in different ways.

Demographic and labour market indicators, as well as poverty, low education, low levels of social protection and high rates of fiscal deficit, among others, are determining factors in the flow of migrants from these three Central American countries.

The situation poses serious challenges for the countries, given the need to adopt public measures that allow them to take advantage of the demographic bonus in the coming years, reducing unemployment, underemployment and informality rates in their economies and generating the bases to promote decent jobs and, consequently, improve working conditions and establish mechanisms to ensure social protection.

Based on the analysis of the economic, migratory, and labour market behavior of these three countries of the isthmus, the ILO supports the design and formulation of public policies aimed at creating job opportunities, based on decent work and strengthening governance of regular and fair labour migration.

According to the director of the ILO Office for Central America, Haiti, Panama and the Dominican Republic, Elena Montobbio, “in a migratory context as complex and challenging as that of our region, we are intensifying our work, through the promotion of social dialogue between key actors and coordination between countries to strengthen the governance of labor migration and address the root causes of irregular migration, with decent work at the center of the solutions”.

ILO strategies focus on guaranteeing the rights of migrant workers, who contribute to the development of host communities, providing new cultures, customs, knowledge and work. Many have worked during the pandemic in the first line of care or in food or medicine delivery services, allowing other parts of the population to take care measures and stay at home.

“At the ILO, we work to improve the working conditions of the migrant population, strengthen the capacities of the institutions that provide them with services; promoting fundamental rights at work, including freedom of association and collective bargaining, within the framework of International Labour Standards”, added Montobbio.

To achieve this objective, it is necessary to promote development and productive transformation, under the premise of environmental sustainability and encourage the transition from the informal to the formal economy; promote green jobs and strengthen social protection to take advantage of the demographic bonus, before it runs out. It is also essential to develop human talent, strengthening the skills and abilities of people to improve their employability.

On International Migrants Day -18 December- the ILO makes these fact sheets available to better understand the dynamics between migration and the workplace and show how a coordinated response facilitates rights-based labour integration for migrants, a key factor in the construction of peace and social justice.